Flyers' fill-in knows fighting for life

Stomach-less Ramsay helps friend Neilson, coach fighting cancer

Hockey

March 02, 2000|By DALLAS MORNING NEWS

Craig Ramsay knows a thing or two about overcoming hardship.

The Philadelphia Flyers coach has worked his way up through the NHL coaching ladder the hard way, learning first-hand just about every job an organization can offer.

He has also worked his way back from surgery that left him without a stomach, never making too much of a fuss about a 1993 operation that required 32 units of blood and almost cost him his life.

"When you're in the battle," he said, "you worry about the fight. You don't think about much else."

That's how the old-time hockey guys live life. And now Ramsay is trying to help a dear friend do the same thing.

Ramsay, 48, is standing in as head coach of the Flyers while Roger Neilson receives chemotherapy for multiple myeloma that could keep him out until the second round of the playoffs.

Neilson's friend for 32 years, Ramsay said the biggest thought going through his mind is helping take one more concern away.

"This is my job, and it's something I'm happy to do -- I love to do," Ramsay said of coaching. "But part of what I'm doing is what Roger wants us to do, and that's carry on. He's showing strength in dealing with his challenge, and he wants us to do the same thing. He's been really good about everything, making us laugh every step of the way. But he also knows there's a job to do, and he wants us to get it done."

Ramsay has done just that. He is 4-1 behind the bench after Tuesday's 3-2 loss in St. Louis, and he said he's doing it while carrying out the plan Neilson set forth.

"I've learned so much from Roger," Ramsay said of the man who coached him in Peterborough, Ontario, at the age of 16 and has been involved in his career at several different levels. "It's safe to say we look at the game the same way."

But Ramsay has plenty of other experience to fall back on, as well.

He has been assistant coach to Scotty Bowman in Buffalo, an assistant general manager with the Sabres, an assistant coach to Jacques Martin in Ottawa, a scout in the Stars system, and assistant to Neilson with the Florida Panthers.

"He has so much experience with so many great people, and he thinks the game as well as anybody I know," said Stars director of player personnel Craig Button, who worked with Ramsay as a scout during the 1995-96 season.

"I learned as much from Craig Ramsay in the one year I worked with him as I've learned from anyone else in my whole career. He taught me a different way to see the game. He taught me how the players see it."

And as a former player with 1,070 career games, Ramsay developed a straight-ahead approach.

"He had a great way of telling you the truth, even if it wasn't what you wanted to hear," Button said.

Ramsay knows about the truth.

He learned during his playing days. He learned it during three months of painful hell, when surgeons removed his ulcerated stomach and attached his esophagus to his large intestine, requiring him now to just small portions of food at a time.

And he learned it watching his good friend deal with cancer.

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